Seaholm Stars, Oak Park Grab Spotlight

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

May 30, 2015

ROCKFORD – Rachel DaDamio has had to race in the shadow of Birmingham Seaholm teammate Audrey Belf throughout her high school career.

That’s OK. They’re friends. And don’t worry about DaDamio. She found her time to shine through the raindrops at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Track and Field Final at Rockford High School on Saturday.

DaDamio took her turn in the spotlight as she won the 1,600 run, running first most of the way, with a time of 4:46.05

“It feels so good,” DaDamio said. “I’m used to running in this weather. I run cross country. I really didn’t have a race plan today. No one really wanted to take the lead, so I did. I felt really strong. If they were going catch me, I was going to run my best. I hardly ever take the (early) lead. I run better form behind.

Belf successfully defended her title in the 3,200-meter run with a time of 10:26.58, won the last two LP Division 1 cross country titles and will be attending Georgetown University in the fall. She also was named high school female Athlete of the Year by the Detroit Athletic Club, so the spotlight has shown brightly on her the last few seasons.

As she noted, DaDamio also was part of the Seaholm cross country team, one of the best in the Midwest recently, and she understands the attention Belf has received.

 “Audrey and I are such good friends. Just being a part of this team … we’ve had such strong distance teams at Seaholm. It’s so cool. My teammates are my best friends.”

DaDamio will make new friends in the fall as she’ll attend and run for University of Notre Dame.

Some who gathered around DaDamio after her victory joked she could have gone to Notre Dame even without her success in track. She graduated with a 4.0 grade-point average and never received a B for a grade, or an A-minus.  

Belf said running for a program like Seaholm was “so surreal to run with my teammates.

“Rachel ran a great race. I was watching and pulling for her all the way.” 

Oak Park finished with 93 points, one more than last year, to win its second consecutive team title. East Kentwood was second with 54.5 points, Northville was next with 43, Rockford placed fourth with 42 points and Ann Arbor Pioneer was fifth with 37.

Oak Park senior Ersula Farrow won the 800 run last year when she attended Grosse Pointe South, and again this year with a time of 2:08.43. The Clemson University recruit also ran on the winning 1,600 and 3,200 relay teams.

Farrow finished among the top five in the 800 all four years of high school.

“I was going for the record,” Farrow said of the 800 run. “I knew it would be hard. I’m satisfied.”

Brianna Holloway won the 300 hurdles with a time of 43.5 to also help Oak Park’s title effort. 

One of the surprise winners was Sammy Cuneo of Rockford in the 400 dash. Cuneo, who will attend Center Michigan University in the fall, just began competing in the event this season. And it wasn’t her idea.

“This was like my fifth time (in the 400),” Cuneo said. “I was running the 100 and the 200 but my coach said I was tough and that I could do this. I said, yeah. I’ll prove I’m a 100 runner.”

Good thing Cuneo listened to her coach.

Cuneo entered the finals with the top time (55.44) in all LP Division 1 Regionals, but had to pass defending MHSAA champion Anna Jefferson of Oak Park in the straightaway.

Cuneo also placed second in the 200.

Junior Sekayi Bracey of East Kentwood placed first in three events, the 100 (11.83), 200 (24.62) and the long jump (17 feet, 5¾ inches). They were Bracey’s third consecutive titles in the 100 and the 200.

“I was very tired,” Bracey said after the 200, her third of three individual events. “I was tight. I just got done with the long jump. So that’s a lot.”

 Bracey is undefeated in this state in the 100 and 200. Her only losses have come in national events during the high school offseason.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself,” she said. “I’ve got to learn to relax and just run. I do better that way.”

Events like the 200, 3,200 and the 1,600 relay were especially difficult for the athletes. Even though the rain let up, the wind picked up and the temperatures dropped.

“I didn’t think about it at all,” Farrow said. “I had a feeling it would be hard. I just had to do my best. I’m not sure about my times, but it was tough. The wind is the worst.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Seaholm's Rachel DaDamio leads the pack during her title-winning 1,600 run Saturday. (Middle) Oak Park won a pair of relays en route to repeating as LP Division 1 champion. (Click to see more from Photos by John Brabbs.)

East Kentwood Friends Continuing to Excel as NCAA Champ, Pro Soccer Keeper

By Steve Vedder
Special for

August 8, 2022

Maia Perez and Gabriela Leon saw it coming.

In fact, the two 2017 East Kentwood all-staters each predicted remarkable post-high school success for each other long before graduation.

Perez was a four-year letterwinner as a soccer goalkeeper who led the Falcons to the Division 1 Semifinals as a sophomore and now plays professionally in Los Angeles. Leon, an all-state pole vaulter in high school, recently became University of Louisville's first NCAA champion in that event.

The two say the success doesn't come as a surprise to either, that part of that success can be explained because they continually pushed each other athletically at East Kentwood.

"Obviously there are a lot of good athletes at East Kentwood, and she was one of those amazing athletes," Perez said of Leon. "When she accomplished something, I wanted to do something big, too. I was all-state in soccer, she was all-state in track, and it was nice to have someone push you, even on days when you didn't feel like being pushed."

Leon credits Perez for helping her grasp the difference between toiling as an ordinary athlete and rising to an elite status as early as the ninth grade.

"When you see high-caliber athletes in the state finals, I think you see the struggles that others don't see," Leon said. "I saw what she was doing, and I learned from that. I learned, and I think she did too, that you have to work hard to be good, to achieve your goals. There is definitely mutual respect between us."

East Kentwood track & fieldThe two met as freshmen and quickly became friends. They originally had soccer in common as both played junior varsity as freshmen before Perez was promoted to varsity later that spring. The teammates began hanging out together off the field, be it at the beach or while taking the school's advanced physical education class together. By the time they were sophomores, however, it had become apparent that Perez's future – despite being a good basketball player – would remain in soccer, while Leon – who had also lettered in volleyball and cross country – narrowed her focus to track.

Both excelled after leaving East Kentwood. Leon had earned her first top-eight MHSAA Finals places as a sophomore, and as a senior placed fourth in pole vault, third in long jump and ran on the fourth-place 400 relay and third-place 1,600 relay as East Kentwood finished third in Lower Peninsula Division 1. Her high school personal records were 13 feet in pole vault and 18-11 in long jump (with a wind-aided 19-7). She broke Louisville's indoor and outdoor records in the pole vault as a sophomore and never looked back. She won the 2022 NCAA outdoor championship in June with a jump of 15-feet, one inch (4.6 meters) while becoming just the fourth collegian ever to amass three clearances over 4.6 meters.

Perez was a three-time Ottawa-Kent Conference Red soccer pick in high school who helped the Falcons in 2015 to their best postseason finish, when they lost to 1-0 in a Semifinal to eventual Division 1 champ Saline. She went on to play at University of Hartford after attracting interest from other programs including Western Michigan, Coastal Carolina and Pittsburgh. She wound up playing every minute of all 37 of her starts as a sophomore and junior while missing just 45 minutes over 19 games as a freshman. COVID-19 wiped out the program's season when Perez was a senior. Still, she is eighth on the school's all-time saves list with 206 while ranking 10th in shutouts with 12.

Following college, Perez was signed by the Los Angeles-based Angel City FC of the National Women’s Soccer League. While she wasn't drafted by any NWSL club, Perez impressed coaches enough during a tryout to land a spot on the team's "Discovery List" as the youngest of three goalkeepers.

"Things have been going real well for me there," Perez said. "I feel like I've improved a ton."

While Perez credits Leon with pushing her as an athlete, she said the two didn't necessarily dwell on what they accomplished in high school. They did, however, compare notes on the similarities it took for both to succeed, both physically and mentally.

"We didn't necessarily talk about (honors) a lot," Perez said. "We both knew what each other accomplished, and I don't think we need to talk about it. But I just knew one day she would be really good in track."

East Kentwood soccerLeon said the trait which stuck out about Perez in high school was her competitive drive. She hated to lose, Leon said.

"She was always a very impressive athlete," Leon noted. "She always had (success) in her because she was a real hard worker. Going into high school you could see her work ethic. We had a mutual friendship, and I saw what a work ethic and being humble could do for you."

As for herself, Leon, like many athletes, explored playing many sports. But she always came back to track.

"I always wanted to be the best athlete I could be," she said. "I was never just satisfied with just doing something. I always had this deep desire to perform to the best of my ability."

Perez remembers the first sport which interested her was skateboarding. In fact, the first time Perez met then-East Kentwood coach John Conlon, she told him she was only marginally interested in soccer. Conlon, who led East Kentwood’s girls and boys programs to a combined 654 wins and the boys varsity to five Division 1 championships, quickly made a convert of Perez.

"It's funny how things work out," Perez said. "I was looking for something that I could really be a part of, and now it's my job and I'm so happy I can say I'm getting paid for something I really like."

2021-22 Made in Michigan

Aug. 3: 3-Time Finals Champ Cherishes Memories, Considering Golf Future - Read
Aug. 1: 
Lessons Learned on Track Have Jibowu's Business Surging to Quick Success - Read
July 28: 
Running Set Life's Stage for Grosse Pointe South's Record-Setting Meier Sisters - Read
July 25: 
2005 Miss Basketball DeHaan Cherishing Newest Title: 1st-Time Mom - Read
July 21: 
Championship Memories Still Resonate with St. Thomas Star Lillard - Read
July 14:
Portage Central Champ Rolls to Vanderbilt, Writing Next Chapter in Alabama - Read
July 12: Coaching Couple Passing On Knowledge, Providing Opportunities for Frankfort Wrestlers - Read
June 30: Hrynewich's Star Continuing to Rise with Olympic, Pro Sports Arrivals - Read

PHOTOS (Top) Clockwise from left, Gabriela Leon competes for the East Kentwood and University of Louisville track & field teams, and Maia Perez plays soccer for East Kentwood and trains for the NWSL's Angel City FC. (Middle) Leon holds up her NCAA championship trophy in June. (Below) Perez is one of three keepers for Angel City FC. [Photos courtesy of East Kentwood's athletic department (2017 soccer), Run Michigan (2017 track & field), the Louisville athletic department (2022 track & field) and Will Navarro/Angel City FC (2022 soccer).]